Les Misérables Power of redemption | Sunday Observer

Les Misérables Power of redemption

“So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation which, in the midst of civilization, artificially creates a hell on earth, and complicates with human fatality a destiny that is divine; so long as the three problems of the century - the degradation of man by the exploitation of his labour, the ruin of women by starvation and the atrophy of childhood by physical and spiritual night are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words and from a still broader point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, there should be a need for books such as this.”

- Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

The 2012 film Les Miserables is an adaptation of the popular stage musical by the same name which is an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables. The film is directed by Tom Hooper and produced by Cameron Mackintosh. The script is written by William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, and Herbert Kretzmer. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Colm Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.

The film begins with the parole of Jean Valjean, a convict imprisoned for the petty theft of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s poor family, and the fateful encounter between Valjean and the magnanimous Bishop of Digne, M. Myriel who saves Valjean and gives him a chance to change his ways. Myriel tells Valjean, “You no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

The parallel plot focuses on an orphaned girl named Fantine who drifts into being a grisette. Fantine is naïve and vulnerable and she is abandoned by her lover Tholomys. Hugo’s portrayal of Fantine is sympathetic and he describes her thus, “It must be said that the three older ones were more experienced, more heedless and more versed in the ways of the world than Fantine la Blonde, who was encountering her first illusion. Favourite, Zephanine and Dahlia were philosophical, whereas Fantine was virtuous. Fantine’s was her first and only love and she was wholly faithful…She was beautiful and had stayed pure for as long as she could…She worked in order to live, and presently fell in love also to live, for the heart too, has its hunger. She fell in love with Tholomys…Fantine joined in the laughter; but an hour later, when she was back in her room she wept bitterly. It was her first love, as we have said. She gave herself to Tholomys as to a husband, and the poor girl had a child.”

The movie is a musical drama which stays true to the stage musical as well as the novel and the characters’ lines are not spoken – they sing throughout the film. As the film progresses, the lives of Valjean and Fantine converge. Fantine leaves Paris and makes her way to the small town Montreuil-sur-Mer in search of work, and she leaves her daughter Cosette with the inn keepers, the Thenadiers who exploit her vulnerable situation and frequently demand money from her. Meanwhile, Valjean has reformed and become the Mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer. Fantine meets Valjean briefly when there is an altercation between her and factory co-workers who do not mind their own business and pry into her personal life and find out that she has an illegitimate daughter and has her sacked from the factory. Valjean is unable to intervene on Fantine’s behalf because he is being hounded by a vicious police inspector Javert who has nothing better to do than try to persecute Valjean. Javert is evil and he fails to realise that Valjean’s soul has been saved by Jesus Christ who gave him a chance to change his ways and redeem himself.

The movie resonates with the power of redemption and Jesus Christ’s immense capacity for forgiveness, love and compassion. The humaneness of Jesus Christ is brought to the fore through the characters of Myriel, Valjean and Fantine. Valjean saves Cosette from the Thenadiers and Cosette fortunately meets Marius Pontmercy who loves her and they get married, although amidst much adversity.

The movie also captures the social unrest and rebellion against the aristocracy which led to the French Revolution which provides a backdrop to the story at the end. The movie is as powerfully evocative as the stage musical and Hugo’s novel.